Gower's Blushing Bird, Philomela's Transforming Face.

Flannery, Mary C.

Gower's Blushing Bird, Philomela's Transforming Face.

Flannery, Mary C. "Gower's Blushing Bird, Philomela's Transforming Face." postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 8 (2017), 35-50. ISSN 2040-5960; 2040-5979.

Flannery's essay considers "what happens when a blushing human is transformed into an animal" (36). Flannery focuses on Philomela's concern about others' ability to see her shame through her blushing face even after she has undergone her transformation into a nightingale. Flannery argues that Gower's "Tale of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela" (in CA, V) "expands upon the theme of avian transformation in order to show how Philomela's ultimate nightingale form offers her an escape from the social and emotional consequences of her rape." (37) Through such expansion, Philomela is the locus of human and animal emotional experience. Flannery then discusses the depiction of animal emotion and expression in the Middle Ages, demonstrating that animals, particularly birds, may share in the emotional range of humans. Flannery illustrates Philomela's "proleptic birdiness" (40), which blurs her human and animal characteristics before and after her transformation. Gower's tale "realizes the avian potential she already possessed" (40). Metamorphosis for Gower was an opportunity for him to investigate the emotional impact caused by it as much as the ways in which the transformation reflects character. Flannery suggests Philomela's loss of her human face allows her to hide her blush, the social signifier of the rape she has experienced, which prevents her from reliving this trauma when others would see perceive her blushing. Gower's retelling of this myth, Flannery concludes, transforms it into "a story about the relationship between faces (Philomela's human face, Philomela's avian face) and ‘face,' that which Philomela has lost so completely that her ‘schame . . . mai noght be lassed,' even if no man will now be able to tell (V.5953)" (48). [JS. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 38.2.]


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis