Gower Bibliography

Feminized Counsel and the Literature of Advice in England, 1380-1500

Schieberle, Misty. "Feminized Counsel and the Literature of Advice in England, 1380-1500." Turnhout: Brepols, 2014 ISBN 978-2-503-55012-1

Review

Schieberle opens the introduction to her monograph with a reading of Gower's tale of the "King, Wine, Women and Truth" from CA Book VII. She finds that "For Gower, 'King, Wine, Woman, and Truth' has a double function. First [the tale] models the process of advising princes that Gower . . . deploys in the Confessio overall: ethics are derived from historical and literary exempla that illustrate moral principles--here, the connection between women and truth. Second, the story embeds an image of feminine counsel within its account of ethical advising . . . . The conclusion of Gower's exemplum--that women and truth are intimately bound together--strongly implies that counsel itself is a feminized practice, a relationship between a subordinate adviser and a masculine ruler that enables wisdom, or 'trouthe'." (2) Her expansion of the observation forms the central argument of her study: "the connection between women and truth that Gower articulates here is not exclusive to him; various writers, including Chaucer, from the late fourteenth century and fifteenth century found in the notion of feminine counsel a compelling image for their own writing" (2). The following four chapters take up a writer and a work each: Chapter 1, Gower's CA; Chapter 2, Chaucer's "Legend of Good Women"; Chapter 3, Chaucer's "Melibee"; Chapter 4, Christine de Pizan's "Epistre Othea," as rendered by Stephen Scrope. For Gowerians, the most pertinent of these is the first, entitled "Women, Counsel, and Marriage Metaphors in John Gower's Confessio Amantis" (21-60). Schieberle characterizes the CA as "a vernacular mirror for princes that presents a remarkable sensitivity to women . . . . What makes Gower's mirror for princes unique, however, is its interest in women and their contributions both ot political culture and to the individual cultivation of virtue" (21). She offers close readings of two tales--"Florent" and "The Three Questions"--by way of proof for the claim that "Gower links advice to princes with women's counsel in order to imagine a gendered structure of authority and advice in which men and women work in tandem to create a harmonious whole" (21). In contrast to the essentially anti-feminist attitude of Giles of Rome, whose "De regimine principium" Gower knew and adapted, "Gower strikingly depicts women in both 'Florent' and 'Three Questions' as the "only" [Schieberle's italics] individual who can instruct a powerful male" (24). Male counsellors are generally less effective in advising their superiors than are women in the CA. "Men designated as counsellors simply give advice, and whether a superior acts upon it or not determines the outcome and the moral lesson. By contrast, in takes with prominent women counsellors such as 'Florent' and 'Three Questions,' the successful conclusion to the narrative hinges upon the woman's counsel and, in 'Three Questions' on her ability to correct her king without threatening his authority as ruler. Gower's women counsel boldly, whereas male counsellors, even when they are older, sage, and right (as in 'Rehoboam') rarely demand to be heard or correct the king. Only the 'Courtiers and the Fool' offers an exception: male courtiers give their king poor counsel, but the Fool obliquely admonishes him in a surprising contrast (VII.3945-4026). This exception proves the rule: as women generally do, the Fool lacks the expectation of authority or threat that allows him to open the king's eyes . . . . Gower more often uses women to represent the disenfranchised voice of morally and politically responsible counsel not provided by traditional male counsellors" (25). Schieberle develops an argument via word-field studies of "conseil," "avys," and "rede" that for Gower the last term meant both to read a text and interpret it carefully. In macrocosm, this means for the CA that "Gower's complex narratives require readers to reinvestigate Genius's imprecise moral lessons, rather than accept any of his morals as universal truths." His purpose, she believes, is to create a continuing movement to and fro between "fundamental ideals of love and politics." He uses this "mediating space" in "Florent" and "Three Questions" to "promote women counsellors as characters that can negotiate between amorous and political discourses," giving "prominence to women as model counsellors who intervene efficaciously in "political" [italics hers] impasses" (33). She follows these observations with careful readings of "Florent" and "Three Questions" (33-56). Ultimately, she argues, Gower's project is to create a "new vision of the polity" in which the ideal is a harmonious marriage, not a competition for power. She links this ideal with Gower's decision to write in English, and to advise in an oblique rather than a directive fashion, concluding "Gower's evidence that women may often be more effective counsellors than men equally conveys the argument that even though his 'feminized' text does not carry the same immediate authority as its paternal Latin predecessors, the CA's vernacular advice can nevertheless be fundamental in encouraging English audiences to embrace moral virtues" (60). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 34.1]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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