Gower Bibliography

John Gower's Sweet Tooth

Newhauser, Richard. "John Gower's Sweet Tooth." Review of English Studies 64 (2013), pp. 753-69. ISSN 0034-6551


The modern, scientifically based disapproval of artificially sweetened foods was matched, Newhauser argues, by the moral disapprobation of sweeteners in the late Middle Ages, particularly in the works of John Gower. In this wide-ranging essay, Newhauser traces both the changes in diet among the peasantry that resulted from their greater spending power following the Black Death and the growing use of sugar as a sweetener, particularly among the wealthy, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as demonstrated both by commercial records and by the cookery books of the time. For both Langland and Gower, the peasants' emulation of the tastes of their social superiors was one of several signs of the breakdown of society. For Gower as for others, sweetness has a double valence, often used in descriptions of the Virgin, for instance, but also depicted as an enticement to sin. Gower's most consistent use, Newhauser claims, is the latter, "an expression of the deception utilized by evil or the self-deception of the sinner" (755), for instance in MO 505-16, where "sweetness" applies both to the devil's rhetoric and to the temptations of the flesh. And the desire for sweet foods is one of his most common images for the corruption of the contemporary clergy, as Newhauser illustrates with passages from MO, VC, and CA, including this passage from Prol. 325-27, "Delicacie his swete toth / Hath fostred so that it fordoth / Of abstinence al that ther is," that is evidently the first use of the term "sweet tooth" in the English language. [PN. Copyright. JGN 33.1].

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Backgrounds and General Studies
Language and Word Studies

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata