Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising

Poetry and the Problem of the Populace After 1381

By (author) Lynn Arner

Paperback - £23.95

Publication date:

15 May 2015

Length of book:

208 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271058948

Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising examines the transmission of Greco-Roman and European literature into English during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, while literacy was burgeoning among men and women from the nonruling classes. This dissemination offered a radically democratizing potential for accessing, interpreting, and deploying learned texts. Focusing primarily on an overlooked sector of Chaucer’s and Gower’s early readership, namely, the upper strata of nonruling urban classes, Lynn Arner argues that Chaucer’s and Gower’s writings engaged in elaborate processes of constructing cultural expertise. These writings helped define gradations of cultural authority, determining who could contribute to the production of legitimate knowledge and granting certain socioeconomic groups political leverage in the wake of the English Rising of 1381. Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising simultaneously examines Chaucer’s and Gower’s negotiations—often articulated at the site of gender—over poetics and over the roles that vernacular poetry should play in the late medieval English social formation. This study investigates how Chaucer’s and Gower’s texts positioned poetry to become a powerful participant in processes of social control.

Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising is an original and provocative study that reorients our sense of the fourteenth-century audience for vernacular English literature. Lynn Arner shows how the writings of Chaucer and Gower shaped complex new hierarchies of cultural expertise and authority. Through a series of wonderful readings, drawing fruitfully on Pierre Bourdieu, among others, this book makes an important contribution to the social and cultural study of medieval literature, vernacular literacy, and access to cultural capital in the later medieval period.”

—Stephanie Trigg, University of Melbourne