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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER As should be clear from this summary, Waters’s understanding of preaching is based almost exclusively on texts in Latin. Such a focus is certainly illuminating (in her discussions of the preacher’s embodiment), but in setting aside vernacular sermons and treatises, Waters sets aside much of the contentiousness surrounding preaching (and clerical knowledge more generally) in late medieval England (see H. Leith Spencer’s study, English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages [Oxford, 1993]). Despite brief references to the Lollards and Margery Kempe, Chaucer is the only example of a vernacular challenge to preaching traditions in this study. Yet Chaucer’s contemporaries, both Lollards and reformists, wrote vociferously and at times extensively about the very concerns of this book: authority, exemplarity, and women preachers/teachers. What happens to the authority of citation, for example, when authoritative texts are translated? To be sure, Waters never claims to be offering a comprehensive history of preaching. And, as a history of ideas about preachers in the Latin tradition, this study is a welcome addition to our understanding of late medieval devotion. Perhaps more important, it is an eloquent argument for including gender in the study of preaching. Katherine Little Fordham University Diane Watt. Amoral Gower: Language, Sex, and Politics. Medieval Cultures 38. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Pp. xviii, 206. $60.95 cloth, $21.95 paper. Amoral Gower is a provocative title, but Diane Watt’s book is thoughtprovoking rather than shock-provoking. The phrase ‘‘amoral Gower’’ of course is a direct challenge to Chaucer’s characterization of his literary counterpart as ‘‘moral Gower’’ in the dedication of Troilus and Criseyde. It is also a challenge to the many critics who, following Chaucer’s lead and for other reasons, see Gower as a moralistic author. Watt’s main focus is Gower’s Confessio Amantis, but she also incorporates insightful discussions on the Vox Clamantis and Mirour de l’Omme. Her thesis addresses a question that has puzzled critics of the Confessio for a long time: Why are there inconsistencies and ambiguities in Genius’s teachings? To Watt, these inconsistencies are not evidence of Gower’s shortcomings PAGE 370 370 ................. 11491$ CH13 11-01-10 14:03:01 PS REVIEWS as a writer, as some critics have suggested. Quite to the contrary, they prove that Gower’s Confessio Amantis is a daring project. In the preface she notes that Gower is not moral but amoral ‘‘because, insofar as he leaves the reader to make her or his own decisions . . . he does step outside of his own ethical system’’ (pp. xii–xiii). Gower’s poem has us grapple with moral and ethical questions and experience the inevitable conflicts and contradictions that characterize ‘‘the sinful condition of humanity’’ (p. xiii). It does not aim at giving final and ultimate answers to these contradictions: ‘‘[Gower opens] up his text to multiple interpretations ’’ (p. xii). To Watt, Gower’s questions center on the relationship between language, sex, and politics, ‘‘interrelated concerns’’ in the Confessio (p. xv), which she examines by seamlessly combining contemporary theories, including feminist, psychoanalytic, and queer theory, along with textual criticism and linguistic and narrative theory. In the introduction, Watt explains her main working assumptions. The book is then divided into three parts—‘‘Language,’’ ‘‘Sex,’’ and ‘‘Politics’’—each comprising two chapters. In the first chapter in ‘‘Part I: Language,’’ Watt analyzes how certain Latin and vernacular passages in the Confessio suggest the indeterminacy of gender and sexuality, arguing that ‘‘a rich vein of linguistic gender play . . . involves its readers and . . . destabilizes its moral arrangement’’ (p. 34). This leads her to consider Gower’s use of three languages in his overall work, Latin, Anglo-Norman, and Middle English. She suggests a connection between the story of the Tower of Babel, recounted in the Confessio, and the Fall, calling attention to the parallels between language and sexuality . The second chapter explores the links between rhetoric, genealogy, and gender. Watt argues that in the Confessio honest eloquence is ‘‘a masculine rather than a feminine quality’’ (p. 43), and she examines the ways in which deceptive rhetoric is associated with feminine qualities and adornments. This argument is compelling, although it underplays...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 370-373
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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