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The better students, especially coming from a reading of Chaucer’s or Chaucer’s dream visions, can identify some of the poem’s weaknesses in diction and meter, but they nonetheless readily recognize in the poem many features that demand our attention as readers and encourage further research into its cultural context.In part, the very reason I teach is that students can see a number of themes at work and productively link the poem with a number of other, more canonical medieval texts.
Such students tell me their conviction that everything they want to say about the inimitable wife has already been said.
In contrast, just enough has been written on to ensure the student is not writing and researching in a vacuum, but there’s also a sense among students that there is much more to say about it, that the poem’s potential as a research topic has not been exhausted.
It uses but transforms the “exile and return” pattern typical of romance, blends the romance form with penitential discourse, and ends (in the Royal version) with Gowther’s assumption of the role of saint when he is specifically identified with Saint Guthlac.
The tensions in the poem, then, between Gowther’s chivalric and saintly identities can be framed as a tension between differing generic expectations and forms, and advanced students might even consider how the two existing versions of the poem (both available in modern editions) differ enough from each other as to invite separate generic classification.
For starters, the issue of Gowther’s demonic birth and pedigree fascinates them, and the poem’s explicit recognition that the demon who impregnated the Duchess is the same who fathered Merlin warrants a comparative reading of texts like the Middle English).
Similarly, Gowther’s abnormal growth and outrageous behavior (his vampire-like destruction of the nursemaids, his attacks against clergy) encourage some to more specifically consider him as a giant or a monstrous being, and I send them to Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s work or medieval texts like , which frame monstrous births as a product of interfaith unions (Gilbert).At the very least, they read a rollicking good story about a demonic, sin-stained knight who acts like a dog and transforms into a saint, and this tends to disabuse even the most jaded student of the notion that the middle ages and its literature were predictable or, worse, boring. A novel is a relatively long work of narrative fiction, normally written in prose form, and which is typically published as a book.Shortly after discovering the demonic identity of his true father, Gowther begins a life of penitence and humility.A zealous convert, Gowther hastens to Rome where he confesses to and is given penance by none other than the Pope himself.Otherwise, the text has until recently been largely ignored by literary critics, who often balk at the structural and artistic deficiencies of this poorly told popular romance. Charbonneau likely captures something of the response many a new critic once had to the poem when she laments, “How could an author expect us to believe this hopelessly ill-prepared transformation from devil’s son to saint . I enjoy teaching this poem, which has much to say about the late middle ages, and I’ve found my students are fascinated both by the narrative itself and the poem’s relationships to more canonical medieval works.begins by describing Gowther’s conception, which resulted from a union between a human duchess and the very same demon who earlier fathered Merlin himself.In my class I use Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury’s edition of , which students can access on-line for free as part of the TEAMS Middle English Texts project.While not available in modern English translation, the text (especially since it is fairly short) is approachable for students who have had at least five weeks exposure to Chaucer’s Middle English, and these students are generally excited about the pacing of the narrative and the sudden twists in plot.What I most like about using in advanced undergraduate courses and first-year graduate courses is that students feel the body of criticism is manageable, and they often choose this poem for research projects.Too often I see the dazed look on a student’s face when he or she begin researching , only to find how much has been written on it.