Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Edmund Spenser's Faery Queen ed. GW Kitchin

A little diversion from the main stream of this blog, at least superficially.  However I hope that it will be found in the spirit of philosophical and ethical enquiry that is its basis, being as the essence of Spenser's work is Honour and the Allegory of Love.  What greater philosophy and ethics can there be?

Review of G.W. Kitchin edition of Edmund Spenser's Faery Queen

I found a copy of the first volume of this edition in my local Oxfam bookshop recently after reading CS Lewis's 'The Allegory of Love' in which Lewis eulogises Spenser's work.

I am as yet on Canto IV of Book I and loving every line.  It was a little hard work at first, but with the aid of the excellent and extensive glossary of usage at the back I am making good headway.

This hardback edition is nicely sized to be easily slipped into a bag or pocket and the font is also quite comfortable to the eyen. (M.English: plural of 'eye'.)

The meter took a little time for me to find the rhythm of, but when you take account of the archaic pronunciation, remembering to accent on the -ed past tense endings and so forth, it isn't long before it is tripping off the tongue.  Actually, I find myself half reading it out loud as that was presumably how it was meant to be taken.  The language itself is sensuous, at least to the  modern ear, a little ironic as there is so much protestantism in the allegory!  But this is a world of chivalry and honour that we are entering into here, and we must leave behind the dull utilitarianism of modern speech.

I confess that the religious allegory is not what I had expected prior to reading Lewis's analysis; I had assumed something more in tune with Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.  While that references the ancient mythological world, this is solidly placed in a mediaeval courtly setting with all the contextual embedding due to knights on quests and allusions to crusades and papal corruptions.  The opening vignette is masterful and captures the reader, the knightly hero and his lady wandering into a dark wood and encountering a vile dragon which he slays before they travel on and become embroiled in the ploys of Archimago, the brothers Sansfoy, Sansloy and Sansjoy, and false Duessa. 

This is not a work to be hurried like a modern page turner, where all that you desire is to find out what comes next and rush on till having completed it you are both glutted and empty, wanting more when your plate is cleared and there is no more to gorge upon.  Spenser's work is of the kind wherein one can linger on every line, poised in the eternal present, slowly digesting the unfolding plot, appreciating the texture of the language as much as the images and story.

Doubtless I shall have recourse to a more recent edition to complete the remaining 5 books of this epic work once I have completed this first, but it is a true pleasure to make my acquaintance with Edmund Spenser through this marvellous little edition which I feel was waiting for me on that shelf in Oxfam last week.

copyright © 2011 Claire Rae Randall
This is a copy of the review which I posted on