Gower Bibliography

Trading Tongues: Merchants, Multilingualism, and Medieval Literature.

Hsy, Jonathan Horng. "Trading Tongues: Merchants, Multilingualism, and Medieval Literature." Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2013 ISBN 9780814212295

Review

The locus of Hsy's study is London, which he, like David Wallace, Ardis Butterfield, and others of late, casts as a city of many languages, a kind of crucible for "code-switching"--the kind of "shifting between different languages (or identifiable registers of any given language) . . . not only for pragmatic purposes but also for deliberately artistic ends: using different languages to develop distinct expressive registers, to stylize certain types of speech, or to evoke a vivid sense of place" (5-6). London's status as a city of languages rests on its prominence as a commercial hub; hence much of Hsy's focus like many of his examples derives from or connects with merchants and mercantile-driven enterprise (lawyers, guildsmen, the printer William Caxton, Chaucer, with emphasis on his commercial associations through the staple, etc.). In this regard, Hsy's book is a good companion to Craig Bertolet's "Chaucer, Gower, Hoccleve and the Commercial Practices of Late Fourteenth-Century London" (London: Ashgate, 2013)--a study Hsy acknowledges in a footnote (7-8, n. 12) that was at press simultaneous with his own. Indeed, Hsy and Bertolet discuss many of the same passages, especially from the M), where Gower's sharpster Triche (Fraud) receives commentary from both, but importantly to different ends. Hsy's concern is invariably linguistic: he wants to show how Gower's (and Chaucer's, Caxton's, etc.) language works, where it comes from, who its target audience might have been: e.g., Hsy concludes a comparison of the Constance story in his second chapter, "Overseas Travel and Languages in Motion," as told by Trevet, Chaucer and Gower, noting that "by transforming Constance's story from a cleric's narrative into a merchant's tale, both poets find a new literary mode that exploits the transitory and fluid potential of language transversal" (73). In his third chapter, "Translingual Identities in John Gower and William Caxton," Hsy brings the poet and his first printer--also a polylingual--together in enlightening ways, as he sees them as similar spirits. He offers, he says, "a sustained assessment of Gower's polyglot persona and Caxton's literary ambitions . . . . Through first-person prologues and autobiographical excurses, Gower and Caxton develop innovative discourses for discussing cross-linguistic exchange and literary production, and each invests a considerable amount of thought into how his own translingualism informs an ever-shifting literary persona" (92). This chapter contains the extended discussion of the merchant section of the MO noted previously, and draws occasional examples from the CA, stressing the interplay of the Latin with the Middle English in both the verses and the commentaries, and helpfully reminding us that the great majority of Gower manuscripts (and none of those thought to devolve from his own likely oversight of an exemplar) are trilingual. Of particular interest also in this chapter is Hsy's close reading of Cinkante Balade XVII, pointing out the multiple valences Gower achieves with the shift from the lover's French to the lady's rejection of his suit in Middle English: "nay" (113). The example in many ways is a good one to stand for Hsy's larger purpose for the book--"to change our views of medieval writing" (209) from monolingual and nationalist to polylingual and transcultural. He writes of "nay": "Gower foregrounds the alterity of the lone English word spoken by a fictive French speaker, and he dramatizes this word's increasing estrangement from its original moment of utterance. Through this ensuing narrative, the poet suggests the corresponding unease an English speaker experiences when acquiring (and using) a second language like French, a tongue that is at once very close to the speaker but perpetually eluding his grasp" (113). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 32.2]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)
Cinkante Balades

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