The Sympathetic Villain in Confessio Amantis.

White, Hugh

The Sympathetic Villain in Confessio Amantis.

White, Hugh. "The Sympathetic Villain in Confessio Amantis." In Re-visioning Gower. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. Charlotte, NC: Pegasus Press, 1998, pp. 221-235.

White looks at a number of cases in CA in which we are apparently invited to have sympathy for a less than completely virtuous character. Amans and the siblings Canace and Machaire win sympathy because they are the victims of love; moreover, none commits a "positively willed evil action" (p. 222), and no one else is injured by their errors. Mundus is a more difficult case, and Genius' apparent sympathy might be explained as ironic. Irony does not account for the sympathy shows Ulysses in "Ulysses and Telegonus," however, for Genius' explicit commentary on the story in entirely orthodox. Our satisfaction with Ulysses' trumping of Circe's enchantments (a reading that Fanger, in the preceding essay, clearly does not share) derives from an admiration for triumphant cleverness that escapes the confines of morality. White finds the same willingness on Gower's part to allow the tale "to flourish along lines not determined solely by moral concerns" (p. 233) in the pleasure we take in the "insouciant daring blasphemy" of Mundus' deception of Paulina (p. 222). Gower "is interested, like Chaucer, in writing good stories, and knows, like Chaucer, that though a good story can be a moral one, it can alternatively, or in addition, offer pleasures that have little to do with morality and which indeed are morally dubious" (p. 233). And as a final example of his point, White cites the fabliauesque tale of "Geta and Amphitrion." [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 18.1]


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis