His three important literary works are in three language-French, Latin and English. John Gower, who lived between 1330 to 1408, was Chaucer’s contemporary and had perhaps, some intimacy with him. Of course, he was more medieval than the great master and was a little behind his time. His major works, mainly narrative were written in the eighties of the 14th century, at a time when Chaucer had reached the height of his literary excellence. He could not be here as advanced as his master.
John Gower’s first important work is in French Speculum Homms or Speculum Meditantis. This has come to be preserved in a single copy, under the French title Mirror de I. Homme written in its – Anglo-Norman variety, this French work contains a long sermon against the sins of the time.
John Gower’s next work, Vox Claimantis, is in Latin. This is a dream allegory, and has a social-political theme. The subject matter here is the peasants uprising of 1381, under the leadership of Wat Tyler. This is a quite graphic account of the insurrection and a severe indictment of the entire society, that was turned gloomy by violence, disorder and corruption.
John Gower’s last important work, produced in 1383-84, is in English. This is Confessio Amantis; an ambitious project, to present in pleasing verses sources.
The work, which is a long compilation of 40,000 octosyllabic lines, contains more than a hundred stories of varying length and Chaucer is basically an artist, while Langland a moralist. The former’s literature is an entertaining imitation of life to please and make life enjoyable. Langland’s singular work, on the other hand, is a serious representation of life, with a distinct purpose to teach.
Again, as Social Chronicler, Chaucer remains a broad minded spectator, taking interest and representing fun in human society and from diverse sources from the Holy Bible to Ovid. There is a well set plan to tell some engaging tales in a simple and melodious style.
Confessio Amantis is found to differ substantially from Gower’s previous works of course written in French and Latin. There is no endeavor in this work to impose moral instructions on ethical matters or social behaviors. Gower has here a straight objective to tell tender stories about love a major motive in human conduct and function. He even announces that he will leave morality for love.
Of course the framework, in which Gower sets his tales, appears rather artificial and lacks Chaucerian fineness and aptness. The work shows how the poet, on the advice of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, goes to confess to Genius, the high priest of the goddess. Genius tells him different stories concerning love to enable him to test his feeling of love. After the tales are all told, the poet returns to the goddess who dismisses him as unworthy for her court of love and bids him to return to his books.
Gower’s work is well-planned, but not properly executed. It marks little originality in his imagination or in his ideas. The influence of Chaucer on him is, no doubt patent but there is no Chaucerian sense of proportion and control over the total structure. There are too many digressions and dissertation to hamper the uniformity of the impression. Moreover, the constant moralizing trend and the conventioneer bias of the Middle Ages expressed in him, weary and make him more mechanically medieval. Gower has also neither the skill of character portraits nor the sense of wit and humour, which is so prominently found in Chaucer.
Gower’s writing, however, is not without literary qualities. His originality as a story teller in verse is amply evident. No previous author is found to have versified so large a collection of stories or devised such an ingenious and elaborate scheme of combination. Some of the stories are interesting enough to hold one’s attention all through. Moreover, Gower’s mode of narration is simple and straight-forward, and he never becomes tedious in his story telling. His descriptive art is well combined with his meditative depth. His language is developed and polished that marks the cultured London dialect—the king’s English.
‘Moral Gower’, as Chaucer has characterized him in the “Dedication of Troilus and Criseyde” is definitely an outstanding specimen of verse craftsmanship, without genius, of medieval English literature.