Gower Bibliography

Gower Agonistes and Chaucer on Ovid (and Virgil)

Carlson, David R. "Gower Agonistes and Chaucer on Ovid (and Virgil)." Modern Language Review 109 (2014), pp. 931-52. ISSN 0026-7937


At heart, Carlson's essay is a close reading of some key passages from Gower and Chaucer in comparison to their sources: CA 4.3063-64, the brief description of the storm in the tale of "Ceix and Alceone," in contrast to the much longer passage in Ovid's "Metamorphoses" 11.474-572; VC 1.1593-2012, another description of a storm, in comparison to the same passage in Ovid; VC 1.1623-38, which incorporates five lines from a different passage in Met., 1.264-82; Gower's "Ceix and Alceone" in comparison to Chaucer's account in "The Book of the Duchess," which omits the final transformation that Gower retains; and VC 1.1231-32, in which Gower atypically turns to Vergil (Aeneid 4.173), in comparison to "House of Fame" 713-20, in which Chaucer atypically turns to Ovid instead (Met. 12.43-46). Carlson's discussion is informed by his own deep immersion in the Latin texts, so that he is able to describe, for instance, how Gower's borrowings from Ovid in VC are selected not just for their imagery but as evocations of the broader context in which they occur, and his comments are illuminating. He frames his analysis within an argument on Gower's efforts to outdo both Ovid and Chaucer, whom he viewed as rivals, as well as an effort to outdo his own earlier youthful work. Thus the briefer account of the storm represents Gower's correction of Ovid's excess, and the comparison to Chaucer betrays an underlying jealousy: "Though Gower was senior, perhaps by as much as a generation, Chaucer arrived earlier as an English poet," Carlson concludes. "Greater, prior success for Chaucer's English writings--evidently widely copied, by contrast with Gower's earliest efforts--may also have engendered a degree of disapprobation in Gower for the younger, less serious, but better-received English writer. Gower's more thoroughly informed Ovidian usage in the "Visio Anglie" represents the superiority of his learning, by contrast with the boy Chaucer. The still more thorough command of Ovidianism, still more subtly expressed, in the final "Confessio amantis" reuse of the Ceyx and Alcione matter--where the Chaucerian ineptitude seems to have offended Gower ('Ther mai no worldes joie laste' topping 'To lytel while oure blysse lasteth')--represents Gower's greater seriousness and knowledge, by comparison with the own, younger self that had engaged thoroughly with the same Ovid, and in the learned language itself, for the "Visio Anglie" section of 1381" (952). [PN. Copyright John Gower Society eJGN 34.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis
Vox Clamantis

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