Sensation and the Plain Style in Gower's "Confessio Amantis."

Nolan, Maura.

Sensation and the Plain Style in Gower's "Confessio Amantis."

Nolan, Maura. "Sensation and the Plain Style in Gower's Confessio Amantis." In Russell A. Peck and R. F. Yeager, eds. John Gower: Others and the Self. Publications of the John Gower Society XI (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2017), pp. 111-40.

Nolan's analysis opens with a classic example of biblical "sermo humilis," a simple teaching brought to life with a single sensory detail: "whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones . . . shall not lose his reward" (Matt. 10.42, discussed at 111). Nolan proceeds to analyze the same kind of "plain style" in Gower's CA, arguing that this style "is uniquely suited to represent and indeed to recreate sensory experience," together with the aesthetic and instructive values such experience is especially equipped to provide (113, 140). The medium of Gower's English plain style is a smooth and regular verse that never strives for effect or diverts attention from the story (114-19). The poet explains his moral purpose at CA 1.8 ff.: to engage with "the everyday . . . world governed by love" (121), in the plain and literal style required of priest and penitent in the sacrament of confession (121-25). The "Tale of Acteon and Diana" illustrates the riches of the plain style in action. Told by Genius as a warning against misusing the sense of sight, the exemplum places the reader within the consciousness of Acteon as he emerges from a flowery forest into an aptly titled "litel plein," where suddenly--but willfully--he views the naked goddess standing in a well (125-29). A different, morally ambiguous effect is accomplished by a single sensory detail in the passage where Amans describes an imaginary visit to his lady's bed at night: his disembodied "herte" finds her body "warm" (135). As Amans describes his painful return to reason, the imagery of a cold shower evokes the reader's empathy along with moral instruction (139-40). [LBB. Copyright. John Gower Society. JGN 36.2].


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification