The View from the Tower: Revisiting Gower, 1381, and "Vox Clamantis," Book 1.

McKinley, Kathryn.

The View from the Tower: Revisiting Gower, 1381, and "Vox Clamantis," Book 1.

McKinley, Kathryn. "The View from the Tower: Revisiting Gower, 1381, and Vox Clamantis, Book 1." Mediaevalia 29 (2008): 31-52.

McKinley's essay includes three connected arguments: 1) Guillaume de Deguileville's “Pélerinage de vie Humaine” is a source of the tower scene in the dream-vision of Book 1 of “Vox Clamantis,” sections 17-19, where the narrator, fleeing from the Rising of 1381, takes refuge in a ship (representing the Tower of London) threatened by a storm that represents the Rising; 2) in this scene, the multidimensional first-person narrator--a member of the gentry--confesses his own responsibility for the storm, representing in some way, McKinley says, aristocratic responsibility for the Rising, perhaps Richard II's own responsibility; 3) as a result, the scene reflects the earliest "beginnings of Gower's attribution of blame to the upper classes for the problems associated with the Rising" (p. 34), well before the 1390s when his accusations of such blame are usually dated. McKinley acknowledges that Gower's use of Guillaume's “Pélerinage” in the scene is only "probable" (37) and that their shared symbols are "quite common" (33), although she does not note that Eric Stockton long before connected the scene with the conventions of "The Ship of Religion," specifically Guillaume's “Pélerinage de l'Ame” (“The Major Latin Works of John Gower” 1962:366 n1 and pp. 16-17). McKinley uses Stockton's translation, but seems to miss or ignore this detail, while following Stockton's identifications of many echoes from Ovid. The penitential stance of Gower's narrator is clear, however, whether or not it derives from either of Guillaume's works or derives, more loosely, from a Ship of Religion topos, or the ubiquitous allegorical device of a narrator's lament or Confession. Whether the narrator represents Gower, the Self, a particular class, the body politic, the king, or all of these is impossible to determine, but McKinley emphasizes the king and the upper classes, maintaining that the Confession can be seen to reflect Gower's "growing disapproval of Richard's kingship" (34) as early as 1386, the date usually assigned to the composition of Book 1 of the “Vox.” [MA. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 38.2.]


Gower Subjects
Vox Clamantis
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Biography of Gower