Gower Bibliography

Beginnings and Endings: Narrative Framing in 'Confessio Amantis'

Stoyanoff, Jeffrey G. "Beginnings and Endings: Narrative Framing in 'Confessio Amantis'." South Atlantic Review 79.3-4 (2015), pp. 52-64. ISSN 0277-335X


The "frame" of CA, Stoyanoff argues, consists of both the Prologue and the scene in which Amans is finally confronted by Venus in Book VIII and is revealed to be an old man. With this revelation, both Amans and the reader are forced to reassess what they have learned during the course of the confession and to extract the wisdom that has been presented in the guise of lessons on love. The Prologue prepares both the theme of mutability that is most powerfully manifested in Gower's old age and the question of the relation between love and wisdom. Gower appears to be optimistic about the potential of wisdom as an antidote to the instability of the world (Prol. 66-67), but then, as he shifts to the main body of the poem, to give love power even over the wise. But Stoyanoff argues that the Prologue also offers the reader several warnings against deception, and the end reveals that Gower has been able to fool both himself--into believing that he is a young man--and the reader, who accepts his self-characterization, not realizing that the whole confession is a sham. Venus, in the way in which she asks Gower to state his name, reveals that she sees him for what he is all along, and she forces him not just to self-knowledge but to reflection: "old John Gower is instructed to remember how he individually became old--to use the knowledge of a lived life. This directive implies wisdom is gained in this way. The experiences that old John Gower has had through his life merit reflection; in fact, that is what "Confessio" expresses to its reader through the revelatory moment--the need for reflection on the experience of reading the poem" (57). "The revelatory moment of the poem, then, not only reveals Amans as Gower, but it also moves the reader to contemplate what she has read in light of the revelation that it is wisdom for which she should read, not love" (60). In sum, "[Gower's] poetic conceit that wisdom is too weighty and that love is more common has resulted in a dangerous, harmful way of reading that neglects both the body and society. With the revelatory moment, however, Gower remedies the effects of misguided reading by modeling the right way to read. The wisdom of 'Confessio Amantis' lies in its imposition of a reading process through its circular framing. The mutable content of the poem from wisdom to love and back to wisdom leads the reader to a con-structive reading process that acknowledges 'ernest,' game, and the 'middel weie' for which Gower aims (Prol. 17). Wisdom is found in what is read, yes, but wisdom, 'Confessio Amantis' shows its reader, is more often found in how something is read" (61). Stoyanoff's essay is provocative, but one wonders how he would explain the effect of the marginal note at 1.59 ("fingens se auctor esse Amantem . . .") in shaping the reader's response to the "deception" of the confession. It is also regrettable that the constraints of space don't allow him to explore in precisely what ways the interpretation of any portion of the poem might differ in retrospect from how it is perceived before reading the conclusion. [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 35.1.]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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