Gower's Manuscript of the 'Confessio Amantis'.

Nicholson, Peter

Gower's Manuscript of the 'Confessio Amantis'.

Nicholson, Peter. "Gower's Manuscript of the 'Confessio Amantis'." In The Medieval Python: The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones. Ed. Yeager, R. F and Takamiya, Toshiyuki. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 75-86. ISBN 9780230112674

Nicholson challenges what he himself had argued in an important 1987 essay, that Gower played a minimal role in the production of manuscript copies of the CA. Here basing his argument on a new comparison of two early manuscripts—Oxford, Bodleian Library, Fairfax 3 (F) and Bodley 902 (A)—Nicholson seeks to provide "a closer and more precise idea of what Gower's prototype manuscript looked like and of the ways in which the poet prepared his manuscript for copying" (76). Each of these manuscripts was copied by three separate scribes. The copies of the middle section, virtually in its entirety (fols. 22- 81 in F, and fols. 21-80 in A), are remarkably similar, lining up "precisely column for column" (p. 76) in two 46-line columns per page. Neither manuscript is taken from the other, however, but "copied from a common exemplar" (77). The visual presentation in this section, ordered to reflect Gower's conceptual organization of his material, suggests his involvement: major new divisions are moved to the top of columns, for example, and major and minor divisions are distinguished and announced by initials of appropriately varying size. The third section is different. This portion of the poem, which Gower continued to revise, is less finished, and in the copies, there is "less correspondence of arrangement to structure" (79). The first section is different again. Nicholson suggests that it was originally in as finished a state as section two, but later "disturbances . . . made the scribes' intervention necessary" (82). The decision to include illustrations, for example, was not part of the original plan, and their eventual inclusion in different number, size, and location in the copies affected the 46-line arrangement in each. Thus, though the texts in this portion of the poem are, for the most part, aligned, occasional differences are telling. Whereas A sometimes moved marginalia into the text and left blank lines at the bottom of some pages, F did neither. This scribe "not only fills up every line of the available space . . . but works to align new sections of the poem with the first line of the column whenever possible, and he does so by supplying new lines of English text" (83). The precise number of needed lines could only have been ascertained during the process of copying, and Nicholson persuasively argues that these passages were most likely composed by Gower. Ultimately, then, it appears that the poet worked "collaboratively" with his early scribe(s) to effect a presentation that matches nuances of his conceptual design. This is a closely argued paper, and Nicholson is to be applauded for venturing to re-examine the evidence, and on that basis to question and ultimately revise his earlier findings. [Kurt Olsson. Copyright JGN 31.2]


Gower Subjects
Manuscripts and Textual Studies
Confessio Amantis