Avarice, Idolatry, and Fornication: The Connection between Genius's Discussions about Religion and Virginity in Book 5 of John Gower's "Confessio Amantis."
- Ward, Jessica.
- Avarice, Idolatry, and Fornication: The Connection between Genius's Discussions about Religion and Virginity in Book 5 of John Gower's "Confessio Amantis."
- Ward, Jessica. "Avarice, Idolatry, and Fornication: The Connection between Genius's Discussions about Religion and Virginity in Book 5 of John Gower's Confessio Amantis." Studies in Philology 116 (2019): 401-22.
- Ward sets out to show that neither Gower's inclusion of the "Religions of the World" section nor his discussion of rape and virginity in Book V, on Avarice, are digressions, as G.C. Macaulay (and many others) have believed, but rather that his "repudiations of Venus and rape in a discussion of avarice are appropriate and, indeed, necessary to his purpose in the "Confessio Amantis." The identification of avarice and fornication as idolatry in the Apostle Paul's warning to the Colossians and to the Ephesians . . . not only explains Genius's disavowal of the non-Christian gods, but is also essential both to the expansion of rapine to rape and the praise of virginity in contrast to Venus's lechery in book 5 of the 'Confessio Amantis'" (404). In a manner unique to the CA ("No other penitential work . . . links avarice, idolatry, and fornication together in such a sustained manner"), Gower "expands avarice from its limited definition as the desire to covet gold" which "ultimately leads the reader to understand idolatry as a practice that consists of treating gold, a lover, or a god as an idol. This progression works out the connection Paul makes in . . . Ephesians and Colossians: that fornicators and the avaricious are idolaters" (405). Ward asserts that in Paul's view, fornication, "with rape as the ultimate illicit act of sexual violation, is also revealed to be a rapacious form of avarice" (406). Gower presents Amans as "a sincere, even naïve, lover who respects the individual autonomy of his lady and her virtue"--in short, the opposite of the idolatrous, avaricious fornicator bent on "taking away another's possession or virtue" (406)--i.e., how Gower moves from avarice-inspired rapine to rape. Ward demonstrates the capaciousness of Gower's view of avarice by considering its social/legal damage (406-9), the profound social rot of adultery (409-11), the linkages of avarice with the Pauline conception of idolatry (411-14), and "Rape as stealing virtue and the debate about Venus" (414-22). Ward concludes that "by linking discussions of avarice, idolatry, and fornication in book 5, Gower relates the legal realities of "raptus" to penitential discourse. During a time of such great change in attitudes about the good and goods, Gower reiterates Paul's condemnation of the avaricious and fornicators to distinguish them from the legitimate lovers who engage in "kinde" love within the bounds of reason and virtue. Furthermore, he elucidates the dangers that avarice poses to communal flourishing and one's relationship with God" (422). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 38.2.]
- Gower Subjects
- Confessio Amantis
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations