Gower's Bedside Manner.

Stadolnik, Joe.

Gower's Bedside Manner.

Stadolnik, Joe. "Gower's Bedside Manner." New Medieval Literatures 17 (2017): 150-74.

Stadolnik demonstrates through multiple citations from a range of medieval medical writers including Walter of Cantilupe, John of Arderne, Arnald of Villanova, and the penitential author Laurent d'Orléans ("Somme le Roi"), that "Clerical and lay discourses of confession articulated a form of dialogic examination that proceeded as measured and discerning talk of spiritual disease, and was thus akin to the inquisitive method of a skilled doctor" (151). This method incorporated "good and honest tales . . . to provoke laughter, tales of the Bible, and tragedies" that "share equal status as rudiments of useful medical narration" (165). For Stadolnik, it is this connection of medical and Confessional talk that provides Gower with the frame structure of the "Confessio Amantis": "Amans professes to suffer from lovesickness. Venus soon refers him to Genius . . . to confess" (151). Thus, "Amans's lovesickness attracts Venus's concerned--and explicitly medical--attentions" (165). Stadolnik likens Gower to a "confabulator," one who "must inform his practice with a familiar kind of expert discernment, answerable to both literary sensibility and pragmatic, medical savoir-faire. The confabulator must be a deft versifier who can tailor verse forms to the occasion, and employ rhetorical strategies of decoration and amplification to good effect." (167) Gower's frame follows these sightlines but, in order to extend the curative effects of the fiction to his readers, he develops "a genre concept of its own which specifies to readers how to use the text" (169). It is a "genre" Gower adapted from what Stadolnik (quoting Julie Orlemanski) takes as common readerly "habitus" in the Middle Ages, i.e., "florilegia, collections of exempla, and miscellaneous manuscript compilations which invite ‘eclectic performances of reading'" (170). Since the confabulator is under no constraint to shape his narrations beyond a moment-to-moment need, and since such disconnected "performances of reading" were what medieval readers were used to, "Readers are invited not to read [the CA] from the beginning to . . . end but to ransack it for the literary experience they want, or need, or both." (171). Presumably this is curative; in any event, "In this way [Gower] recommends himself as a confabulator to princes . . . and for those of his readers who are mere subjects, he encourages a readerly practice that can simulate expertly that eclectic practice of confabulation" (174).


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis