Gower Bibliography

Gower's Public Outcry

Longo, Pamela L. "Gower's Public Outcry." Philological Quarterly 92 (2013), pp. 357-87. ISSN 0031-7977


Longo offers a study of the complex layers of "voicing" in VC, with special attention to the way in which the addition of the Visio (the present Book 1)--with the addition of the new voice of the reluctant prophet--reinforces the lessons on the need for personal reform in the present Books 2-7, which were written before the events of 1381. The appeals to the authority of the "vox populi" and its association with the "vox dei" occur, she notes, only in Books 2-7. In Book 1, the voice of the "people" is animal-like and cacophonous, and it is contrasted with the "vox celica" that summons Gower to his role as poet in 1.2019. In Books 2-7 he submerges his own voice beneath the authority of his Latinate sources and the appeals to "vox populi." But Longo notes that "the unanimity of this voice is undercut by the very social strains that the poem attempts to overcome" (360). Other references in 2-7 to the plebs and vulgus throw into question whose authority is being invoked and also who is responsible for reform, and force the reader to examine his or her own role and responsibility. Book 1 puts the poet in the position of enacting that self-examination himself, in anticipation of the duty he expects of his readers. Longo pulls together the complex threads in her argument in her conclusion: "The addition of "Vox" 1 to Gower's public outcry enhances the poems call for self-reflection, a personal reform that leads to communal reform. Indeed, the prefatory "Vox" 1 makes the poem's critique even more powerful after the Rising. All the more so after observing the irrationality of rebellious voices, Gower's readers must weigh the voice of the people to whom he credits his criticism of clerical and lay elites. "Any uncertainties over this voice have been matched by uncertainties over the voices of the Rising. With the addition of "Vox" 1 it seems that the poem's "vox dei" contrasts sharply with the animalistic voices of the rebels; but these voices are no less powerful. To evaluate them is to prepare to evaluate the voice of the people Gower cites in the other books. The added "Vox" 1, with its naming of Gower and depiction of the turmoil in "New Troy," hints at the void Gower takes upon himself to fill through "Vox" 2-7's layered voicing. The "vox celica" at the end of "Vox" 1 indeed comes with divine authority and stresses the lack of moral coherence among those Gower believes should preserve order. In the context of the seven-book poem, tensions surrounding the people persist in "Vox" 2-7 and demand careful readers to decide if they will allow rebel voices to dictate the social order or if they will take up the call to reform themselves. "The complete poem leaves the future of civil society up to its reading public; indeed, it calls this public into being through its fraught outcry. If Gower's 'Vox' speaks with the voice of God, it only does so because those who ought to lead by example lack the moral coherence to maintain that civic enterprise, as 1381 would show with devastating consequences. Gower indicates that readers may take up the cause of reform if they learn from history and from the poem's contemporary voice: that is, if they carefully examine the signs of the times and their own culpability. Tensions between the portrayal of the rebels in 'Vox' 1 and the claim to the voice of the people in 'Vox' 2-7 ensure that voicing always points back to the people. For readers to ponder who has the right to reform society is to begin to look to themselves to heal divisions within the body politic" (378-79). [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society eJGN 34.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Vox Clamantis

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