Gower Bibliography

Gower as Gerontion. Oneiric Autobiography in the Confessio Amantis

Levine, Robert. "Gower as Gerontion. Oneiric Autobiography in the Confessio Amantis." Mediaevistik 5 (1992), pp. 79-94.


Gower doesn't seem to have made a secret in CA either of his debility or of his old age. In both versions of the Prologue, he refers to his lingering illness, and in the revelation in the mirror at the end, he depicts himself as a withered old man. But Levine would have us dig Gower's true feelings about himself out of more subtle clues in the text of the main body of the poem. CA is, he asserts, "among other things, the long, bad dream of a sick old man" (p. 89). It is evidently important to his argument that it be a dream rather than some other form of covert self-revelation, for he labors to assimilate the poem to the genre of the dream vision though Gower neglects to say precisely that his narrator ever falls asleep. Among the passages that Levine finds most revealing are the several scattered allusions to blindness in the poem, which he interprets in view of the poet's more specific references to his loss of sight in the prefatory epistle of VC, not noting that some ten years passes between the composition of CA and the VC dedication. When Amans, seeing his wrinkled face in the mirror, declares that "Mi will was tho to se nomore" (8.2831), Levine finds not a turning away from the glass but an allusion to the poet's literal inability to see of considerable dramatic irony. Blindness was associated in Gower's mind with castration, he asserts. He finds other evidence of the poet's fear of impotence in his consciousness of the world's decay, and evidence of his fear of "reification" in the recurring image of the key. The great length of Book 5, finally, is due to the link between greed and sexuality, but also to the association of Avarice with old age. It is not a pretty picture. For a contrast to this pathological view, and for a consideration of some of the many passages that Levine does not refer to (such as the vision of the company of old lovers at 8.2666 ff.), that suggest a broader range of feeling about old age than he is willing to allow, one should return to J.A. Burrow's discussion of the ending of CA in his 1983 essay in Responses and Reassessments or more briefly in The Ages of Man (1988). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 16.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Biography of Gower
Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata