Gower Bibliography

Practicing Literary Theory in the Middle Ages: Ethics and the Mixed Form in Chaucer, Gower, Usk, and Hoccleve

Johnson, Eleanor. "Practicing Literary Theory in the Middle Ages: Ethics and the Mixed Form in Chaucer, Gower, Usk, and Hoccleve." Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013 ISBN 9780226015842

Review

Johnson's book is a rewarding work of literary criticism. It sets out to trace the philosophical and aesthetic function of the "mixed form" (prosimetrum, i.e., the oscillation between lyrical verse and didactic prose) in the "Consolation" of Boethius and its legacy in late-medieval vernacular literary traditions. Through lucid close readings, it also reveals how literary texts enact ethical transformations through their literary form. The chapter on Gower carefully attends to the dynamic relationship between form and content throughout the CA. In her chapter 4, Johnson investigates two facets of the work's mixed nature: its integration of verse and prose, and its use of two mutually informing languages (Latin and Middle English). The chapter treats Usk's "Testament of Love" alongside Gower's CA. Johnson observes how both authors adopt "a mask--a genre-based persona" through which "a sociopolitical critique" with can be launched (166). Johnson reads Gower's sudden shift into rhyme royal stanzas in the verse epistle at the end of the CA as a formal allusion to Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde." Gower, like his contemporary, "uses stanzas [in the epistle] to bumper syntactic units at the level of the sentence," and the formal aspects of this passage set it apart from Gower's use of enjambment elsewhere (192). Through formal juxtapositions and shifts in narrative voice, Gower enacts "a comical revision and reinterrogation" of Boethian modes of consolation (198). The most revealing aspect of Johnson's analysis its attention to the interplay between Latin glosses and Middle English verse in the CA. She deftly reveals how prosimetrum enacts both a formal and linguistic mode of code-switching. Gower's Latin prose glosses showcase the "complexity and alterity" of Middle English verses and present the Middle English as its own sort of "Latin" with a philosophical heft that demands critical unpacking (191). Through its mixed form, the CA effectively breaks down a rigid binary between Latin and the vernacular. Since Johnson's chapter on Gower only discusses the CA, the integrative function of prose and verse in his major Latin and French works remains unexplored. Nonetheless, the book offers fruitful readings of the CA that not only encourage new approaches to literary Boethianism but also restore the importance of form and aesthetics to an understanding of Gowerian ethics. [Jonathan Hsy. Copyright JGN 33.1].

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Confessio Amantis

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