Gower Bibliography

Aspects of Gentilesse is John Gower's Confessio Amantis, Books III-V

Olsson, Kurt. "Aspects of Gentilesse is John Gower's Confessio Amantis, Books III-V." In John Gower: Recent Readings. Papers Presented at the Meetings of the John Gower Society at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, 1983-88. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. Studies in Medieval Culture (26). Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 1989, pp. 225-73.


A broad-ranging discussion of Gower's notions of gentilesse, rich both in detail and in implication that resist brief summary. Gentilesse is treated in Book 4 under the rubric of "Idleness," the last of the five branches of Sloth. Olsson analyzes Genius' discussion in three parts, corresponding to three different medieval senses of otium: "idleness" proper, for which Genius offers the questionable remedy of "busyness in love"; "recreation," the rest that allows a person to return to work (the treatment of chivalry and gentilesse); and "leisure," the condition necessary for profitable study (the lists of discoverers and inventors). The middle section adopts the courtly mode of the demande to match its courtly subject. Genius typically argues more than one side of the issue, but he finally creates a hierarchy of worth of the various kinds of gentilesse, ranging from "sotie of love," to the practice to chivalry, to "honeste love," to "vertu moral," which embraces all of the other virtues commended in the poem. While this discussion has both a centrality and a thematic importance that correspond to Virgil's comments on love in Purg. 17-18, it does not bring about any immediate change in either Amans or Genius. Amans remains the captive of his hope and his imagination, which reason is unable to impress or alter, and thus follows the example of Pygmaleon. Genius' imagination is of a different sort: like Ulysses, who in Gower's portrayal is unable to hold to one purpose for very long, he is quick to generate images, but also quick to forget them, and unable to forge any resolution from the many conflicting ideas that he speaks for. Olsson's comments here are an important contribution to the discussion of Gower's characterization of Genius and of Genius' "dual role," serving either Venus or God according to the demands of the moment. In Book 4, Genius remains torn between his two masters and their different notions of gentilesse. The priest of Venus gives us to stone-turned-to-flesh of Pygmaleon's statue and the flesh-turned-to-stone of Araxarathen as the "type" and "antitype" of the beloved, each a projection of self-serving male desire. The priest of God understands the gentilesse of Amans' own mistress and corrects his misapprehension of her, and in Book 5, he offers an "antitype" in his own characterization of his mistress Venus. Genius himself is a personified "demande," Olsson concludes; in speaking for conflicting values, he makes CA as a whole a form of "recreation" like the discussion of gentilesse, and forces our participation in the creation of a resolution. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 9.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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