In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER and encourage future work. Such scholarly generosity makes this book essential reading for medievalists and Renaissance critics alike. Maura Nolan University of California, Berkeley Peter Nicholson. Love and Ethics in Gower’s Confessio Amantis. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005. Pp. x, 461. $80.00. It may seem unusual at this point in Gower scholarship that a book should be written to affirm, explore, and defend, as the poet’s purpose in the Confessio, the construction of an ethics of human love. Nicholson prepares us, however, with an equally unusual prefatory comment: this is a book that should have been written forty years ago, but wasn’t. To supply what other major Ricardian poets have had, but Gower has lacked—a ‘‘shared understanding’’ of the poetic text, ‘‘the product of a preceding generation of scholars’’ (p. v)—he returns to this core subject and makes a case that he thinks may benefit us even now. Indeed, he warns that he will stop short of questions that one might justifiably also raise, about how the poem, for example, may be ‘‘either subversive of or blind to its own ideological foundations’’ (p. vii). Nevertheless, this book, he suggests, could also provide a basis for such study. Having shown the differences between the Confessio and Gower’s two other major poems, Nicholson challenges those who interpret the poet’s treatment of love—the ‘‘newe thing’’ of this work—from the perspective of ‘‘a watered down neo-Augustinianism.’’ The ‘‘received view’’ of the poem, deriving largely from this approach, serves to demarcate Nicholson’s uniquely contrasting perspective. In his judgment, Amans is not ‘‘an embodiment of human sinfulness,’’ but an ‘‘ordinary mortal’’; the task of Genius is not ‘‘to win [Amans] away from his love,’’ but to show him ‘‘how he might become a more virtuous lover’’; ‘‘the underlying moral structure of the poem’’ is not ‘‘the opposition between caritas and concupiscence, or in broadest terms, between the love of God and human love,’’ but ‘‘the fundamental harmony . . . between God’s ethical demands and love’s’’ (pp. v–vi). Nicholson lays the foundation for his own approach and book-bybook analysis by initially examining the framework of the lover’s confesPAGE 534 534 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:43 PS REVIEWS sion. Among Gower’s sources for that framework, Guillaume de Machaut provides the closest models, and Nicholson’s survey of the dits amoureux in relation to the Confessio is one of the strengths of his book. The effect of his analysis is to draw Gower’s poem back into the realm of courtly fictions and to focus our attention on matters such as the dialogue form, inherited from Machaut, in which the god Love or associated allegorical figures attempt to guide the lover-narrator to a new perspective on love worthiness. In his adaptation of this material, however , Gower ‘‘takes a far broader view,’’ exploring a greater diversity of lovers, situations, and moral choices, and ‘‘he chooses to face . . . issues that Machaut ignores’’ (p. 44). Given the expanse and variety of Gower ’s work, Nicholson’s approach is fittingly comprehensive: he combines close readings with a helpful mapping of the argument and unique structure of each book. He also pays particularly close attention to about 20 of the 150 tales in the collection. Given the subject, his choice of some of these, such as Canace, Rosiphelee, and Apollonius, is expected, and of others, such as Constance, Nero, and Nectanabus, is less so, but such variety enriches the inquiry. Throughout, the interpretations are insightful; often they are provocative. Space will not permit looking closely at Nicholson’s treatment of any single narrative, but a few of his premises regarding the poem require comment. He insists, for example, that Genius is a reliable teacher, one who ‘‘speaks for the poet most of the time’’ (p. 7). Whereas many recent critics, observing Genius’s lapses and inconsistencies, treat them as also forming part of Gower’s design, Nicholson does not. Either this is a nonissue—‘‘For every problematic tale,’’ he argues, ‘‘there are dozens with completely straightforward lessons’’—or, because ‘‘moral choices are not always clear-cut...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 534-536
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.