Document Type


Peer Reviewed



Despite its reputation as socially and politically conservative, John Gower’s fourteenth-century Confessio Amantis highlights sexual violence against women as a central cultural injustice and presents women’s rape narratives as a potentially powerful force for social and political change. This essay focuses on three of Gower’s tales in which women tell their own rape narratives with dramatic and lasting consequences: Mundus and Paulina, Tarquin and Lucrece, and Tereus and Philomena. In all three instances, these women’s narratives of suffering are socially transformative precisely because they threaten the masculine chivalric ideal. For Gower, rape is a direct result of the cultural belief that aristocratic men can and should force the less powerful to submit to their desires for total political and sexual control. Far from trivializing rape or fetishizing women’s suffering, Gower repeatedly argues that rapes are violent acts against entire communities and that women’s rape narratives have the potential to transform and reform those very communities.


Thank you to Irina Dumitrescu, Emma Bérat, and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback. I would also like to thank my research assistant, Emma Usselman, and gratefully acknowledge the support of the SSHRC Insight Development Grant program.


John Gower; Confessio Amantis; rape; rape narrative; voice; women’s voices; courtly love; community