Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer's Gardens and the Language of Convention

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer's Gardens and the Language of Convention

Article excerpt

Laura L. Howes, Chaucer's Gardens and the Language of Convention (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 1997). xii + 142 pp.; 6 black-andwhite photographs. ISBN 0-8130-1506-5. $39.95.

The advertisement for this study rather aptly describes it as an `elegant essay on the garden image in Chaucer' (John M. Ganim); it is indeed elegant and fluent, but its brevity and frequent lack of detail or depth detract from its impact as a book. Howes's main contention is that Chaucer's use of the garden topos provides a key to his narrative innovation and in particular to his treatment and rewriting of the conventions of courtly behaviour, fin amor, and romance writing. She begins with a brief historical survey of the medieval garden, which offers some interesting insights into the creation of a distanced pleasure ground with its own separate spaces. Howes then examines the way that the 'garden' or park image provides narrative coherence and 'artfulness' (p. 43) in the Book of the Duchess, and explores the discord and paradoxes encapsulated in Chaucer's use of the garden in the Parliament of Fowls, surprisingly, she does not address the distinctions between the gardens of Venus and Nature in this latter work. Her discussion of Troilus and Criseyde is perhaps the most effective part of the study: she remarks Chaucer's heightened use of the garden topos (five instances as opposed to Boccaccio's one) in order to convey the tension between the ideals of love and social actuality: the `in-eched' gardens create a `horizon of expectations' for the affair (pp. 65, 68). Howes's consideration of the Knight's, Merchant's, and Franklin's Tales focuses on gender and the ways that women may either be contained in gardens or challenge the ideals and conventions of the locus amoenus. …

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