Gower Bibliography

Social Healing in Gower's 'Visio Angliae'

McShane, Kara L. "Social Healing in Gower's 'Visio Angliae'." South Atlantic Review 79.3-4 (2015), pp. 76-88. ISSN 0277-335X


Kara L. McShane addresses the "Visio Angliae" of Book I of the VC as a "healing narrative" using romance metaphors to conceptualize a healing process following the 1381 Rising. She acknowledges the poem's social conservatism while rejecting many earlier critics' negative reactions to it; Russell Peck's concept of "common profit" provides a framework for her analysis of Gower's reformist expectations. The essay opens with an explanation of the notion of social healing through narrative, which she grounds in Laurence Kirmayer's understanding of narrative as an essential component of recovery from trauma; this model of trauma and recovery then guides her close reading of portions of the "Visio Angliae." McShane argues that Gower anchors his depiction of the trauma of the Rising in metaphors of "voicelessness and bodily fragmentation" (77), indicating a social body traumatized by events. This leads her to an examination of the poet's speaking situation, as voicelessness would be moot without an interlocutor; the imagery of bodily fragmentation then complicates the narrator's situation, and characterizes the trauma depicted in the poem. This sense of voicelessness represents psychological trauma through bodily breakdown of the act of speech, itself metaphorical in a written poem. Gower's "sigh" (80) then articulates the poet's emotional state in reaction to the terrifying events of the Rising, and the resulting challenge to the integrity of the body politic. Once McShane has established the issue of voice in the poem as a response to trauma, she shifts her attention to Gower's use of the metaphor of a rudderless ship at sea, one which she finds common to many Middle English texts, including Gower's own later narrative of Constance. She draws on several scholars' analyses of this metaphor in Gower and elsewhere, and suggests that this particular metaphor is especially helpful for articulating a healing process, because of the "adaptive possibilities" (80) it offers Gower. Like the fragmented body politic, the rudderless ship becomes a metaphor both for the poem's speaker and for England; as the ship becomes the Tower of London, the poem shifts from the narrator's trauma from witnessing the Rising to the state's trauma at being challenged by the Rising. This metaphor thus makes the chaotic nature of the actual Rising legible to Gower's audience, and provides a way to understand how to go forward from such a moment of rupture. She concludes by arguing that the ship image provides both a metaphor of the larger community, and also a model for moving forward with (hoped-for) divine guidance. Returning to the notion of common profit, she argues that Gower uses this articulation of the trauma of the Rising to affirm the notion that the larger society cannot achieve healing and common profit without drawing together to keep the ship of state afloat. [RAL. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 35.1.]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Vox Clamantis

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