Gower Bibliography

The Tactful Genius: Abiding the End in the 'Confessio Amantis'

Beer, Lewis. "The Tactful Genius: Abiding the End in the 'Confessio Amantis'." Studies in Philology 112 (2015), pp. 234-63. ISSN 0039-3738


The CA is a coherent poem, Beer argues, contra those who have celebrated its lack of coherence: the tales and the conclusion lead to a single consistent lesson. And that lesson is about the rejection of love in this world, contra those (such as the reviewer) who have found in the poem a complex but coherent lesson on the ethics of human love. In the conclusion to the poem, when Amans looks into the mirror and sees that he is old, he is also reminded that he must die: that life is transient, and that love is transient as well. This is the absolute that constitutes the final and this defining moral lesson. "Amans must turn away from vice and toward virtue not simply because he happens to be old now but because of the 'last things,' because he will die and be judged and pass into the afterlife. . . . According to Gower, the uncertainty of the world, and the inevitability of death, should drive us to the certainties of the Christian faith, to that invariable abstract form of the good which is God" (240-41). "Amans's love must and will be transcended and replaced by Christian love" (242). To demonstrate how the exempla in the preceding seven books support this lesson, Beer examines a sequence of four tales in Book V (V.4431-5495) and argues that the real lesson in each case differs from the ostensible lesson on Amans' conduct. When Amans complains, in the discussion of Usury, that he receives less in rewards from his lady than he feels he has earned, Genius replies with a statement on the essential arbitrariness of love which concludes, "Forthi coveite noght to faste, / Mi sone, bot abyd thin ende, / Per cas al mai to goode wende" (5.4564-66). "Amans should not covet too fast," Beer writes, "because he will not get what he covets; he should abide his end because one day (whether that day comes soon or not) he will die, and then it will matter a great deal whether or not he coveted too fast" (246). The tale of Echo that follows, while offering a warning against the use of "brocours," also offers, in the figures of Echo and Jupiter, images of the instability and deceptiveness of love, and in Juno, a model for the disillusionment that Amans experiences, as "both of them find out that their own idealized view of their love relationships have been divorced from the truth" (248). As a lesson on avoiding Parsimony, the tale of Babio and Croceus would seem to be irrelevant to Amans, since he has just insisted that his lady will not accept his gifts. The tale is less about material gifts, however, than it is about Babio's--and Amans'--lack of virility (in Gower's source, Babio is clearly old), and the surrounding discussion alludes to the difference between the "gifts" one offers a woman and those that one offers to God. Genius' definition of "Unkindeschipe" (V.4903-05) sounds very much like his earlier description of the arbitrariness of Love's rewards. In the tale that follows, Adrian serves as the example of the sin in question, but the real lesson for Amans lies in Bardus. "This is the story of a man who trusts that he will garner a material reward for his conscious and voluntary service to another person but is instead spurned by that person and rewarded far beyond his desert by those he had not consciously set out to help. . . . Amans, like Bardus, serves devoutly in the hope of a modest reward but he will get nothing from the person he serves. However, the virtue that he displays and nourishes in doing such service (provided it is 'honeste') will garner rewards in heaven" (253). And "while Bardus received an unlooked-for reward in exchange for his good deeds, the tale of Ariadne [which immediately follows] offers the bleak prospect of misdirected devotion going completely unrewarded" (260). Amans' "misguided love leaves him as vulnerable to the assaults of Fortune as was the otherwise reasonable Ariadne, once she had surrendered herself and her agency to Theseus" (259). Genius' final comments to Amans in Book V, while seeming to offer sympathetic encouragement, also contain a reminder of transiency in the allusion to the seasons (V.7823-31) and another anticipation of the final moral lesson in its references to "grace" (V.7832). Genius' role, Beer concludes, is to unfold the lessons of the poem gradually. "Genius is intimately associated with those feelings that have governed Amans, which is why he keeps Amans company for so long, why he is an unstable figure in some ways, and why he departs once those feelings have disappeared. By exploring such feelings in great depth and detail, Genius gradually exposes certain uncomfortable truths about them. He points toward, without quite encompassing, the full understanding of these truths that Amans finally attains when he looks into the mirror: just as that vision brings Amans to knowledge of himself, so Genius's exempla have worked to show Amans the truth about his own condition" (263). [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 34.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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